As it is becoming more apparent that there will not be any NBA games for the rest of the 2011 calendar year, (and I question the wisdom and value of a shortened 2012 season), it is time we attack the propaganda perpetuated by the NBA and their flunkies that pose themselves as “pundits” that David Stern is/was/will be the greatest sports commissioner in American sports history.
There is no doubt that Stern has been one of the luckiest commissioners around. How else can you explain a league that markets itself as a star-driven league, a rare case of truth in advertising, yet all the credit goes to the commissioner? To his credit, Stern did not make the same mistake twice. In the 1980’s, the credit for reviving the NBA went to Larry Bird and “Magic” Johnson. In the 1990’s, Stern make sure to grab the spotlight as much as he could from one Michael Jordan. There are still plenty of talented superstars in the NBA in the 2010’s – Kobe Bryant; LeBron James; Kevin Durant; Dwyane Wade… so how come the NBA is not experiencing the same success it had in the 80’s and 90’s?
The answer is that NBA, unlike the NFL, is not recession-proof. The other commissioners also reaped the benefits of the boom economy of the 90’s, but only Stern received great PR for it. That’s all fine and dandy, but let me ask you this: do we consider Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball, a great commissioner just because he had the Roaring economy of the 1920’s and the benefit of having the greatest player of all time in Babe Ruth? No we don’t.
We always hear how Stern globalized the game. But being an ambassador is not a mandatory part of the job description. What is the point of playing all of these exhibitions in Europe if the NBA can not even succeed in Canada? The Vancouver experiment failed miserably, and in Toronto, the sports hierarchy goes as follows: 1) Maple Leafs; 2) Maple Leafs; 3) Maple Leafs; 4) Argonauts; 5) Bills (it’s only a matter of when, not if they leave Buffalo); 6) Blue Jays; 7) Raptors. And speaking of the Grizzlies, does anyone else think that Memphis is a major league sports city? And now they have a possible lawsuit on their hands?! Then there’s the issue with China. Does anyone think that China would give a damn about the NBA if it wasn’t for Yao Ming? So why do we compare Stern with Richard Nixon when it comes to opening up the trade market to China? It’s bad enough, as far as Americans are concerned, that Team USA is no longer favored to win international tournaments. Imagine the agita American basketball fans will feel when Asian countries develop a basketball program. Or just ask any Canadian about hockey.
David Stern was at the right place at the right time. But with two work stoppages on his watch, what can he hang his hat on? Attendance? Over-expansion into small markets? Cable TV ratings? The Draft Lottery? The extending playoff format? No Golden Age lasts forever. And as the golden buzzer sounds on the NBA’s golden age, perhaps it is time we turn the tables on the Commish, and strike the same critical hammer that he lays upon his players (and a certain Dallas owner), on Mr Stern himself.